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Don't judge a wine by its label
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I've an infinite capacity to embarrass myself at some wine tastings. Here I am, at the Mutual Distributing trade show at the Greensboro Country Club, where one of the Triad's major distributors is hosting grocery, restaurant and hospitality clients, all trying to lock in purchases for the upcoming holiday season. I approach a booth called Low Country Imports, and it catches my eye because of a goofy label, "Dyed-in-the-Wool," that features a sheep that looks as if it has been scrawled freehand on the outside. This is a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. OK. Wool. And New Zealand. And sheep. Where the animal outnumbers humans 2-to-1. Duh huh, I get it. But I've never actually gotten it at retail because the label seemed just so, well, goofy. So, I tell the nice woman at the trade show booth: "Well, I've seen this goofy sheep a lot. Never tasted 'er before. What say we whomp 'er back." OK, here I'm goofing on her, sporting my best "Crocodile Dundee" accent, knowing full well I'm, oh, a good continent off. The nice woman across the table eyes me narrowly and informs me that she is the genius behind the label that looks like a freehand drawing. Then she gives me a piece of her mind — and the story behind the label and the wine. She's an entrepreneur, this Bess Lee of Raleigh. Seems she flies to New Zealand on Sept. 4, 2001, seeking a source of grapes for her import-distributor business back in the United States. Her search is for naught. Business disaster looms. She's back in an airport, empty-handed, planning to fly back to Los Angeles International Airport. Only now it's Sept. 11, 2001, and nothing is flying into L.A. — or anywhere else in the United States — for a while. So, Bess Lee is trapped in New Zealand. During her captivity, a wine tasting is scheduled nearby, where it just so happens she meets a supplier who just so happens to need a buyer, and from this serendipity springs 3,000 cases worth of top-grade Sauvignon Blanc. Next, Bess Lee calls a relative, a recent graduate of Wake Forest University, and pleads: "I got 3,000 cases of naked wine!" The friend does a Google search and suggests as a label "Dyed-in-the-Wool" because it means "unchangeable," and this might convey to consumers unchangeable quality. And somehow in all this scrambling, there's a bit of sketching and doodling at a Kinko's copy store where a label is hastily crafted, featuring the "Dyed-in- the-Wool" moniker and a sheep. By now, you'd think I would realise just how many consumers naively buy a wine based on label alone. In this rare case, they're making the right choice. Dyed-in-the-Wool Sauvignon Blanc, which retails for about $11 a bottle (Harris Teeter), is quite good. And it has been a commercial success ever since September 2001.